Together alone: The benefits and hazards of group work

The benefits and hazards of group work

The work of an academic detective can be a lonely and frustrating task without a ‘sidekick’ to bounce ideas off and confirm your suspicions. This is where working in groups or teams can be very helpful. There are two ways in which you may become involved in group work: voluntary and involuntary.Voluntary group work is basically a study group (or a study partner) that meets as needed, where you choose to study collaboratively with other students. Working together with fellow students has a number of benefits, such as helping one another to understand subject content, developing ideas for assignments, and giving each other feedback on drafts of written work before submission. Such collaborative work is a perfectly acceptable practice. However, in situations where you are required to submit individual pieces of work, you must be careful not to copy others’ work, or to produce work that is overly similar, as this will result in a fail grade for that piece of work.Involuntary group work refers to working in teams as a requirement of a particular assessment task. While some people prefer not to work in this way, group work is a common feature of many workplaces and is therefore an essential skill to develop. Nonetheless, group work can be a difficult process, especially in an educational environment that traditionally values and rewards individual effort. A common concern of students working in groups is that the work is distributed unevenly, with some members doing much more work than others. To ensure that a group functions smoothly from the outset, you need to establish clear goals and processes by which the workload is shared and the decisions are made. Keep the following points in mind:

  1. Encourage open communication and decision-making: Let group members share their thoughts, and even their fears, about how the group will work.
  2. Establish strengths: Each member is unlikely to have the same interests or skills in doing all aspects of the work on a project. In fact, the point of group work is to draw

If in doubt, ask for help

If you are unsure about how to proceed with your essay topic, ask your tutor for help. It is quite acceptable for you to ask questions about your assessment tasks to ensure you have a clear idea of what is expected of you. Essay topics can often be broad, with many books written on a subject, so it’s easy to go off on a tangent. At the tertiary level, tutors are there to help you, so ask questions for clarification in class. If you have specific questions relating to your essay and your reading, then contact your tutor by phone or email, and make an appointment to see them.

Before you meet with your tutor, make sure that you’ve done some preliminary reading and thinking about the essay topic. There is nothing an academic dislikes more than a student who makes an appointment to see them about an essay, but has done no work and has nothing to say. Lecturers and tutors are not there to do your essay for you by spelling out every issue to be covered in a ‘join the dots’ manner. By all means ask questions, but don’t arrive with an empty slate expecting your tutor to fill in the blanks.